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Douglas Pratt

By Douglas Pratt

National Treasure 2: Book of Secrets

Only a grouch could seriously dislike the high-energy adventure fantasy, National Treasure 2 Book of Secrets, released by Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment (UPC#786936735390, $30). Nicolas Cage, whose often eccentric screen persona fits perfectly with the 2007 film’s fanciful alterations of government institutions and monuments, stars in the tone-perfect follow up to the first National Treasurefeature, with his character persuading friends and family to aid in the collection of encrypted directions that lead to a ‘lost city of gold.’ The blend of genuine facts, both current and historical, with make-believe discoveries gives the film a legitimate intellectual stimulation that overrides its Disney cleanliness, just as having the characters related to one another enhances the emotional significance of their by-play and teamwork. The action scenes are super, too, but it is really just the wide-eyed presumptions the film is putting forth about government and history that makes it so enticing. It’s a modern tall tale, told with a cheerful earnestness, and with Cage as its salesman, resistance is pointless.

The picture is in letterboxed format only, with an aspect ratio of about 2.35:1 and an accommodation for enhanced 16:9 playback. The picture is sharp and glossy. The 5.1-channel Dolby Digital sound does not have an intense mix, but it is fully collaborative with the entertainment, offering plenty of directional effects and dimensional ambience. The 125-minute program has alternate French and Spanish tracks in 5.1 Dolby, and optional English, French and Spanish subtitles. Co-star Jon Voight joins director Jon Turteltaub for a light but informative commentary track, talking about the film’s historical underpinnings, its location work, the story, the stunts, and the cast. Voight had a great time working with Helen Mirren, who was a new addition to the cast that was otherwise carried over from the first film. “I said, ‘You know, we’re going to do a movie together. This is great, Helen. We’re going to do a movie, but what we’re going to do here is we’re going to have a lot of fun being children. Doing things, like kids, you know, swinging on vines. Doing a lot of fun, action stuff that we never get to do.’ And when we got together, we found we liked each other, we found we had a lot of laughs together. We could tease each other right away, and so, that’s all part of it, too. When you’re doing your best work, you’re dependent on the other actors to some degree. You’re open, and you’re listening. You’re responding. Now sometimes you can do something by yourself, but if you do good work, you should be responding to the other personality, and it was great to be with Helen. It was just fun in the discovery. We had a lot of reasons to have a real friendship, and I guess we were discovering it as we were working on these scenes. We liked each other and we liked the creative process of arriving at this. I’d say, ‘What about this?’ and she’d say, ‘No, what about this?’ and, ‘What about that?’ That kind of thing. And then we come to it and we’re working on it and we’re really listening to each other. We’re really at risk with each other. That’s what makes it good, I think.”

Disney has also released a 2-Disc Collector’s Edition (UPC#786936746594, $35). The first platter is identical to the single-platter release. The second platter contains 17 minutes of deleted scenes. There are a couple of points in the movie where the editing clearly jumps the plot ahead. One moment, when the hero is escaping from the Library of Congress, seems especially cheesy, because he gets away too easily, but when you see the scene that is missing, you understand why it was removed, because it was too slow for the pace of the sequence as a whole, even though it does make the hero’s effort more believable. In any case, while the scenes would have slowed the film down, they are all worth seeing for their humor or imagination. Also featured is a 5-minute blooper reel and 56 minutes of reasonably good production featurettes, including a nice tour of said Library of Congress.

June 4, 2008

– by Douglas Pratt

Douglas Pratt’s DVD-Laser Disc Newsletter is published monthly.
For a free sample, call (516)594-9304 or go to his website at

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It shows how out of it I was in trying to be in it, acknowledging that I was out of it to myself, and then thinking, “Okay, how do I stop being out of it? Well, I get some legitimate illogical narrative ideas” — some novel, you know?

So I decided on three writers that I might be able to option their material and get some producer, or myself as producer, and then get some writer to do a screenplay on it, and maybe make a movie.

And so the three projects were “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep,” “Naked Lunch” and a collection of Bukowski. Which, in 1975, forget it — I mean, that was nuts. Hollywood would not touch any of that, but I was looking for something commercial, and I thought that all of these things were coming.

There would be no Blade Runner if there was no Ray Bradbury. I couldn’t find Philip K. Dick. His agent didn’t even know where he was. And so I gave up.

I was walking down the street and I ran into Bradbury — he directed a play that I was going to do as an actor, so we know each other, but he yelled “hi” — and I’d forgot who he was.

So at my girlfriend Barbara Hershey’s urging — I was with her at that moment — she said, “Talk to him! That guy really wants to talk to you,” and I said “No, fuck him,” and keep walking.

But then I did, and then I realized who it was, and I thought, “Wait, he’s in that realm, maybe he knows Philip K. Dick.” I said, “You know a guy named—” “Yeah, sure — you want his phone number?”

My friend paid my rent for a year while I wrote, because it turned out we couldn’t get a writer. My friends kept on me about, well, if you can’t get a writer, then you write.”
~ Hampton Fancher

“That was the most disappointing thing to me in how this thing was played. Is that I’m on the phone with you now, after all that’s been said, and the fundamental distinction between what James is dealing with in these other cases is not actually brought to the fore. The fundamental difference is that James Franco didn’t seek to use his position to have sex with anyone. There’s not a case of that. He wasn’t using his position or status to try to solicit a sexual favor from anyone. If he had — if that were what the accusation involved — the show would not have gone on. We would have folded up shop and we would have not completed the show. Because then it would have been the same as Harvey Weinstein, or Les Moonves, or any of these cases that are fundamental to this new paradigm. Did you not notice that? Why did you not notice that? Is that not something notable to say, journalistically? Because nobody could find the voice to say it. I’m not just being rhetorical. Why is it that you and the other critics, none of you could find the voice to say, “You know, it’s not this, it’s that”? Because — let me go on and speak further to this. If you go back to the L.A. Times piece, that’s what it lacked. That’s what they were not able to deliver. The one example in the five that involved an issue of a sexual act was between James and a woman he was dating, who he was not working with. There was no professional dynamic in any capacity.

~ David Simon